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  • Writer's pictureEllen Bookman

Young onset Parkinson's

Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease. According to the Michaell J. Fox Foundation, “when younger people and their clinicians are not expecting Parkinson’s disease (PD), the diagnosis may be missed or delayed as symptoms are attributed to other conditions. It’s not uncommon for arm or shoulder stiffness to be attributed to arthritis, sports injuries or other medical conditions before Parkinson’s is eventually diagnose.”

They go onto say that Parkinson's isn't just an ‘older person's disease.’ It's typically diagnosed around age 60 or later, but symptoms can start at 50 years old or earlier…. Estimates vary, but about 10 percent of people with Parkinson's may fall into this category.

This is exactly what happened to me. For four years, I suffered through shoulder pain, foot cramps, hand surgery that didn’t heal — all on my left side because Parkinson’s typically affects one side of the body. In addition, during that four year period, I also battled depression, fatigue, and an overwhelming sense of apathy. Finally, my GP said that I should see a neurologist who diagnosed me within minutes.

The Big Picture. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year and more than 10 million people diagnosed worldwide. A Parkinson’s diagnosis increases with age and men are 1.5 X more likely to be diagnosed than women. There is no known cure for PD and symptoms are managed through medication, exercise, physical therapy, and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).

Diagnosing Parkinson’s. There is no single diagnostic test or scan for Parkinson’s, but there are three telltale motor symptoms that help doctors make a diagnosis — Bradykinesia (slowness of movement and one of the cardinal manifestations of Parkinson's disease); tremor and muscle rigidity/stiffness.

Click on link below for movement symptom information.

Non-Motor Symptoms. In addition, they’re also non-motor symptoms— you know the ones my first doctor downplayed like anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, constipation. Shame on her for making me feel worse than I already did by telling me that anxiety was not a part of Parkinson’s.

Hey Doc, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, “mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are real clinical symptoms of Parkinson's, just as rigidity and tremor. In fact, at least half of all Parkinson's patients may suffer from clinical depression at some point during the course of their disease, according to some estimates.”

DATscan is not the last word on a Parkinson’s diagnosis but it adds another level of credibility. A key factor in a Pd diagnosis is whether or not there is a dopamine deficiency in the patient, which can be identified with a DATscan, an injection and MRI-like imaging session. A dopamine deficiency coupled with the motor and non-motor symptoms is the basis of the diagnosis. The test takes five hours, and it required me to lay perfectly still for 45 minutes. Since I had many of the other symptoms, the DATscan results just confirmed the Dr.’s diagnosis.


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